Belfast Telegraph

Stormont could return in time for Christmas, says Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald

The locked gates at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)
The locked gates at Stormont (Niall Carson/PA)
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has said that she believes the Stormont Assembly could be restored in time for Christmas.

Writing in An Phoblacht Mrs McDonald said that Sinn Fein feel the Executive could be up and running again by December 25 or early in the New Year.

Northern Ireland's parties are set to reconvene for fresh power-sharing talks on December 16.

Secretary of State Julian Smith has said that an agreement must be reached to restore the institutions by January 13 or he will be compelled to call fresh Assembly elections.

Mrs McDonald said it was Sinn Fein's view that "a deal is possible and has always been possible".

She said it was time for agreement to be reached on rights issues, including an Irish Language Act, legacy issues and the reform of Stormont's petition of concern mechanism.

However the Sinn Fein leader said that "the issues we face are not new and the heavy lifting has already been done".

She cited the St Andrews and Stormont House agreements as providing resolutions for Irish language and legacy issues.

Mrs McDonald spoke in favour of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit deal saying the "the worst aspects of Brexit are mitigated by the current withdrawal agreement".

She challenged the DUP to return to Stormont "in real partnership, guided by respect, equality, consent, power-sharing and good governance that are the foundations of the (Good Friday) Agreement."

Sinn Fein leader‎ ‎Mary Lou McDonald
Sinn Fein leader‎ ‎Mary Lou McDonald

The Sinn Fein leader said even if an agreement is reached "there are further challenges to be met".

"A new inclusive Executive can, and must, be different. There can be no return to the status-quo," Mrs McDonald said.

She also addressed the ongoing health crisis in Northern Ireland with nurses taking industrial action set to escalate to a full strike later this month

"No public servant should have to take to the picket line to secure a fair day's pay for a fair day’s work. No family should be left homeless or the sick left to linger on waiting lists or trolleys. In a prosperous society there should be no place for food banks or children living in poverty," Mrs McDonald said.

"So, let’s strike a deal, let’s re-establish the inclusive power sharing institutions and let’s meet the challenges ahead in united and reconciled society."

Speaking on Friday, DUP leader Arlene Foster expressed her hope Stormont could return after the General Election on December 12.

However, Mrs Foster told an election hustings event hosted by business leaders that she couldn't do it on her own.

“I think there is a renewed optimism about a shared space, I hope that Michelle shares that," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

“People say to me, ‘can you work with Michelle O’Neill’, of course I can work with Michelle O’Neill, because she has a mandate as deputy first minister, I have a mandate as potential first minister, we have to work together for the good of everyone in society."

The Stormont Assembly collapsed in January 2017 when the late deputy First Minsiter Martin McGuinness resigned in the wake of the RHI scandal and equality issues.

Attempts to revive Stormont through previous power-sharing talks have remained fruitless. Sinn Fein claim an agreement was reached in February 2018, before the DUP walked away over an Irish Language Act.

A new intensive series of talks were called in the wake of the murder of writer Lyra McKee in April, but those too amounted to nothing.

The DUP has been contacted in relation to Mrs McDonald's comments.

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